That is what a Final Four team looks like.
I hesitate to pump this win up too much because it is well know Roy Williams has his teams ready to play NC State. That being said, this was an all around great effort by the Heels against a team that is by no means pushover. This is the sort of game you would like to see UNC play as a #1 seed against the #8 seed. I won't say it erases the manner in which UNC lost to FSU but it would appear the Heels are heading in the right direction.
There were a lot of good things in this game but it all starts with Tyler Zeller. I tweeted during the game that Zeller is starting to put up Sean May numbers. Against FSU when the rest of the team fell apart it was 14 points and 14 rebounds. Last Thursday in Blacksburg it was 14 point, 11 rebound performance. In this one? 21 points and 17 rebounds. Zeller has had four straight double-doubles and seven in his last ten games. Zeller, like a senior should, has stepped up his game. It's not just the numbers either, Zeller is playing with emotion and showing toughness despite attempts by ACC teams to jostle him with physical play.
UNC's other frontline players also played extremely well. Harrison Barnes had his share of surgical strikes on his way to 15 points. Barnes showed off his versatility scoring in a variety of ways. John Henson did not have a great offensive game with nine points but brought his defensive game with 11 rebounds and five blocks. In fact, Henson's rattling around in C.J. Leslie's head totally threw the Wolfpack forward off. This was the third time Leslie has faced Henson and every time the result has been the same. Once again, Henson effectively shut Leslie down to the point even when Leslie got good looks, he was so rattled by Henson's presence he missed shots badly.
In the back court both Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock hit on all cylinders. There was chatter on Twitter heading into this game that NC State's Lorenzo Brown was a better point guard than Marshall. Clearly, Marshall was paying attention and begs to differ. Much like he did in the home game vs Duke last seaosn Marshall outplayed Brown across the board. Marshall was good on defense and even better on offense racking up 11 assists and scoring seven points. On the flp side Brown only had nine points and committed five turnovers.
Then there was Reggie Bullock making his first start following the injury to Dexter Strickland. Bullock did not disappoint hitting 3-5 from three, scoring 11 points. However it was his defense on Scott Wood that stole the show. Wood came in as NCSU's leading scorer and shooting 45% from three. After the first half, Wood was 0-3 and scoreless before scoring 11 in the second stanza with only three of those scored with Bullock guarding him. In fact one of Wood's threes was banked in and NCSU had four such banked threes including a three quarter court shot from Brown at the end of the first half.
In the "played well in spot duty" department you have Desmond Hubert five rebounds, three of them offensive after James Michael McAdoo ran into first half foul trouble. Stilman White did exactly what he was asked to do in five minutes of play. White came in prior to the second and fourth TV timeouts of the first half and also filled in for Marshall in the second. White recorded an assist and hit a three. Most importantly White had zero turnovers.
As far as concerns go, the three point shooting is still suspect and has been since ACC play started. Bullock did his part going 3-5 but P.J. Hairston continues to struggle. In fact Hairston seems to be struggling all over the place having the ball stripped away going to the rim twice and missing all of this three point attempts. Hairston is 4-24 from three in ACC play which I am hoping is just a slump he will ultimately break out of and begin producing consistently.
This was a complete performance that saw UNC take a 31 point lead midway through the second half at which point the Heels turned the engine off and coasted home. It is definitely something to build off. It is one thing for Roy Williams or anyone else to push this group to play at a higher level. Actually doing it and getting a taste of what the team is capable of when everyone brings it serves as a much better motivator going forward.